March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in Australia, with around 16,398 new cases diagnosed in 2019.

If detected early, colorectal cancer is one of the most curable types of cancer and responds well to treatment, especially if the cancer has not spread. You can make a difference by knowing the symptoms and risk factors, participating in screening programs if you are over 50, and encouraging your friends and family to be aware.


Learn the symptoms of colorectal cancer

Research conducted by the GI Cancer Institute has changed the odds for people with colorectal cancer.

  • SCOT: Reducing side effects of colorectal cancer treatment

The SCOT trial discovered that people with colorectal cancer could halve their course of chemotherapy without any negative impact on their treatment or rate of relapse.

This means that they can achieve the same benefits from a three month course of chemotherapy as a six month course – which can dramatically impact their quality of life.

For example, the study found that people who received a three-month course of chemotherapy rather than six months had significantly fewer cases of severe nerve damage, with the same rate of survival.

  • NCIC CO.17: Extending the lives of people with advanced colorectal cancer

Researchers found that a new treatment, cetuximab, benefits people with advanced colorectal cancer when chemotherapy is no longer effective. The people in the trial who were treated with cetuximab lived longer than the group who had supportive care only, which was the standard of care.

This was a landmark trial as researchers discovered that tumours with a specific genetic marker would respond to cetuximab, making this a useful treatment for people with these tumours. It also found that people who have the K-ras gene mutation are unlikely to benefit, sparing them an unnecessary treatment.

  • TROG 01.04: More precise radiotherapy treatments

The TROG 01.04 trial added an important piece to the puzzle of rectal cancer research. At the time, two options for radiotherapy treatment – long and short course preoperative radiotherapy – were both considered to be standard of care for people with rectal cancer.

Researchers compared the two and found that short course preoperative radiotherapy, is safe, and does not compromise on the quality of treatment. This means that patients can receive the same benefits from a shorter regime of radiotherapy, and go on to have surgery more quickly.


The GI Cancer Institute conducts not-for-profit research and clinical trials with the vision of creating a world without gastro-intestinal cancers.


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